Armed with two pea seedlings and a bean plant, Central Point kindergartner Simon Cantwell has been ready to break ground on his family's garden since before it was warm enough to shed his coat for the year.
With as much ownership as if it were in his own backyard — and the promise of dirt and water to occupy his time this summer — the energetic 5-year-old can hardly wait to help bring in the harvest from his family's spot within the Central Point Community Garden.
Community gardens are tucked into every corner of the Rogue Valley. Some sites offer handicap-accessible spots and shared storage space. Nominal annual fees cover water and other expenses.
The community garden at the historic Hanley Farm is home to 18 plots that cost $30 each. Reserve by calling the Central Point Parks and Recreation Department, 541-664-3321.
A second option: Space often is available at a garden behind the Central Point Presbyterian Church, 456 Pine St. Details, 541-664-1828.
Located on the grounds of Talent Elementary, Talent's Great Green Garden offers 40-plus, 3-by-12-foot plots for a $25 annual fee. Details, 541-535-9055 or 541-535-5040.
Blue Heron Park's community garden is nestled alongside the Bear Creek Greenway in the city's signature park off Highway 99. Garden plots are $40 annually and include use of a garden shed, water, tools and wheelbarrow, in addition to classes and regular potlucks. Details, 541-535-6466.
The city of Ashland boasts four city-owned community gardens, with sites at 27 E. Hersey St., 603 Scenic Drive, 491 Clay St. and at Garden Way Park along Clark Avenue. Annual lease agreements range from $25 to $75 and begin in January. The plots are managed by North Mountain Park Nature Center, 541-488-6606.
The Earthtribe Community Garden, along South Mountain Avenue, is on the grounds of the Southern Oregon University Ecology Center of the Siskiyous. Details, 541-552-8512.
Eagle Mill Farm, a provider of organic produce, sponsors the Bear Bottom Community Garden near Bear Creek and Valley View Road. Ten-by-10 and 20-by-20 plots range in price. Water is included in the price, and the garden group hosts monthly potlucks. Details, 541-772-2738.
A quarter-acre community garden is maintained alongside Little Butte Creek and coordinated by the Eagle Point Garden Club. Water is donated by the city, and club members have not required a fee in recent years. The garden is at 711 S. Royal in Eagle Point.
A once-vacant corner parcel in west Medford offers a host of planting beds for residents. Located on land owned by St. Mark's Episcopal Church, the garden is at the corner of North Ivy and West Fifth streets. Details, 541-773-7286.
Newly relocated to the grounds of Lampman Road Baptist Church, the Gold Hill Food Share Garden is a large community effort that produces food for local food pantries and residents who sign on to help. For details, call 541-855-2576.
Nestled on the grounds of historic Hanley Farm, the site is one of a dozen in the Rogue Valley that offer city-dwellers some fertile land on which to grow their own food. The concept of community gardens has been around for ages. With sites scattered around the region, the gardens have enjoyed a bit of a revival with the downturn in the economy.
"I have beans and peas. We put the seeds in the dirt and then put sticks in them and wrote our names on the sticks to knows whose those were," said the boy, who plans to share the garden plot with his parents, 11-year-old sister, Cynthia, and 1-year-old brother, Sam.
"You had to plant the peas and beans, but we're probably going to plant watermelon and strawberries. We haven't really decided what else yet."
In addition to gaining space their backyard can't provide, Simon's mom, Melissa Cantwell, said the prospect of participating in a community garden comes with a host of benefits — from garnering expertise from neighboring plot-holders to crop sharing and building a sense of community.
"We can save money by growing our own food, have high-quality, fresh produce at our fingertips and, probably most importantly, we have the opportunity to spend time outdoors as a family growing and nurturing our garden," said the mom.
"It's something the kids are excited for, and I think it will teach them a lot of valuable lessons."
Sharon Anderson, a coordinator for the Talent Great Green Garden, said the benefits of building community and growing organic produce are big draws for gardens like hers. The Great Green Garden started in 2008 on the grounds of Talent Elementary when volunteers helped transform a gravel parking lot into a now-busy garden space.
"Aside from providing some of the best food you can get when you're growing your own food, we have the opportunity to share that interest and for everyone to learn from each other," she noted.
"Last year we had squash problems, so we all worked to figure them out together. They share information on the best kind of veggies to grow, how to do winter gardening, teaching kids how to compost. It's such a community spirit, and there are so many things other than gardening that happen here."